Archive | Investing

RSS feed for this section

Telefonica: Latin American Growth, Crisis Prices

“Buy low and sell high” is the standard advice of any value investor. It can also be remarkably hard to put into practice.

You see, we humans are herd animals, and we tend to think and act as groups, particularly during times of stress. Call it the primal human instinct to seek strength in numbers.

Unfortunately, while this instinct may ensure our survival during times of war or natural disaster, it handicaps us as investors. When we see others panicking we too sell in fear or stand paralyzed in indecision at exactly the time we should be buying with both fists.

All of this is a lengthy introduction to the subject of this article, Spanish telecom giant Telefonica (NYSE:TEF).

Telefonica has had a rough year. The price of its U.S.-listed ADR are down nearly 70% from their pre-2008 highs. The domestically-traded shares have fared slightly better do to the lack of currency movements, but results have been dismal nonetheless.

Spain’s crisis has become Telefonica’s crisis. As the most liquid stock in the Spanish stock market, Telefonica has become a proverbial punching bag and an outlet for traders wanting to short the embattled Eurozone country.

This article was published on GuruFocus.  To read the full article, please see The Case for Telefonica.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Summer Trading: Utilities

Utilities are the proverbial red-headed stepchild of stock market sectors. During bull markets (so the thinking goes), utilities tend to underperform more aggressive sectors like technology or industrials. But during a good market rout, utilities take a beating along with the rest.

How unloved are utilities?

As I wrote in a recent article, they were by far the most shunned sector by the large money managers interviewed by Barron’s (see chart). Fully 30% of the “big money” managers picked utilities as the worst performer of 2012, and barely 3% thought it would be the best. (On the flip side, more than 30% of the managers chose financials and technology to be the best-performing sectors, and technology had not a single manager who voted it worst).

As a contrarian trade alone, utilities would be interesting. After all, the sector has been known to take investors by surprise; during the 2003-07 bull market, utilities were one of top-performing sectors on a price basis, and this did not include the high and rising dividends enjoyed by investors during the period.

And this brings me to my primary rationale for liking the sector: In a world where 2% is a “good” yield on a 10-year bond, the 3.9% paid by the Select Sector Utilities SPDR (NYSE:$XLU) is attractive. It’s roughly double the dividend yield paid by the S&P 500. And unlike the interest paid by a bond, the dividends of XLU constituent companies have a history of rising over time (more on that in a moment).

While portfolio growth is essential to meeting your retirement needs, growth ultimately doesn’t pay the bills; but income does. Yes, you can sell off appreciated shares to meet current expenses, but that doesn’t work particularly well when the market is trading flat or down. Just ask investors who needed to sell their shares during the pits of the 2007-09 bear market and panic.

The problem for most investors is that their traditional sources of stable income — bonds and CDs — simply do not pay enough in this interest rate environment. This means finding a respectable current income often means accepting stock market risk.

Frankly, I’m OK with that. An investor who is comfortable holding a 30-year bond to maturity should be equally comfortable holding a solid dividend-paying stock. If income is your objective, the bends and twists of the stock market can be safely ignored — so long as you are reasonably sure that the dividend is safe.

Let’s take a look at some of XLU’s largest holdings, starting with Southern Company (NYSE:$SO). Southern, as its name might imply, serves electricity to much of the Old South. It is a diversified power company that generates electricity through coal, nuclear, oil and gas, and hydroelectric assets.

Southern also is a prolific dividend raiser. The company recently raised its quarterly dividend to 49 cents per share, up from 40.3 cents at the onset of the crisis in 2008 — an increase of more than 21%. That’s not bad, given that many companies were forced to slash their dividends in those volatile years. Southern currently yields 4.3%, which is substantially higher than what you will find in the bond market outside of junk. And whether or not we have a eurozone meltdown, that dividend is unlikely to be affected.

Another of XLU’s holdings worth noting is Duke Energy (NYSE:$DUK). Like Southern, Duke is based in the American South. And also like Southern, Duke was able to continue growing its dividend throughout the crisis years of 2008 and 2009 and beyond. Duke currently yields 4.6%.

If we managed to get a breakthrough in the ongoing European debt crisis, I would expect more speculative sectors to outperform. It will be “risk-on” season again, and defensive sectors like utilities will lag behind. But if the European crisis continues to drag on, you can bet investors will flock to conservative income-producing sectors, and utilities could easily be the best-performing sector for the next quarter and beyond.

This article was originally published on InvestorPlace as part of the “My Favorite Sector for the Summer” series.   Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the editor of the Sizemore Investment Letter, and the chief investment officer of investments firm Sizemore Capital Management. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Sign up for a FREE copy of his new special report: “Top 3 ETFs for Dividend-Hungry Investors.”

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Christmas May Come Early This Year

It’s a little early for Christmas in July, but now is the time for investors to be putting together their “Christmas lists” of sorts.

Recently, I wrote a piece that described an old investment strategy of Sir John Templeton (see “An Anniversary We’d Prefer to Forget”).  Sir John would make a list of companies he’d love to own “if only” they fell to a more attractive price.  He would then place limit orders to buy those companies at prices substantially below the current market price.  In the event of a sharp selloff, the limit ordered would be executed, and Sir John would have his shares at the prices he always wanted.

His rationale for the strategy was simple enough: we humans are instinctively herd animals, and we tend to panic when we see others around us panicking.  We lose our independent judgment and we freeze in fear at exactly the moment we should be buying aggressively.  Templeton’s move was designed to take his own emotions out of the equation; Sir John understood his own human shortcomings, and essentially gamed himself.

Today, with Europe teetering on the edge of a potential meltdown,  I’m going to recommend that investors take a similar approach, though mine has the added bonus of adding a little extra income.

I recommend that you make a list of strong multinational companies based in Europe that you are confident can survive Armageddon with their businesses intact.  Ideally, these companies would have significant percentages of their revenues coming from outside of the Eurozone.

Once you have your list of stocks, consider selling deep out-of-the-money puts on them.  If prices remain relatively stable or rise, the options expire worthless and you pocket the premium.  And if the share prices take a nosedive, the options will be exercised and you will be obligated to buy the shares at the prevailing market price—which was your objective all along.  And you still get to pocket the premium.

Here a little explanation is needed.   When you buy an option, whether it be a call or put, your risk is limited to the price you paid for the options.  You are buying the right to buy or sell shares at a given price, not the obligation.

Selling, however, is a much trickier business.  Your upside is limited to the premium at the time you sell the option.  But your downside is much, much bigger.  In fact, when selling a naked call option, your risk is theoretically infinite.  For example, if you sell the right to buy Facebook (Nasdaq:$FB) at $38 to another investor and the stock rises to $100 the next day, you’re on the hook to buy at the prevailing market rate of $100 and sell at $38.  Not an appealing prospect.

Likewise, when you sell a put, you are giving an investor the right to sell you shares at a price that might be far higher than the prevailing market price.  So, when selling put options on your list of European stocks you’d like to own, make sure that you have the cash on hand to handle the trade if it is exercised.  Don’t get greedy and sell contracts for more shares than you can afford to buy or that you would ideally like to own.

I’m not going to recommend specific put option contracts for you to sell because the entire point of this article was for you to create a list of stocks you like at prices you want to pay.  I also want the advice in this article to be general and something that you can use months or years from now; recommending a specific contract would make this article too short-term for my liking.

I will, however, toss out a few company names for you to consider.  Last week, I recommended Spanish bluechips Telefonica (NYSE: $TEF), Iberdrola (Pink:$IBDRY)and Banco Santander (NYSE:$STD) (see “Bargain Hunting in Spain”).

I continue to like all three, and to this list I would add French oil major Total (NYSE:$TOT) and British telecom giant Vodafone (NYSE:$VOD).  While Vodafone is not a Eurozone stock, it has significant operations in the Eurozone and I would expect its share price to take a tumble in a general market rout.

If you’re not comfortable with options, that’s ok.  You can accomplish essentially the same thing by placing limit orders like Templeton.

Disclosures: Sizemore Capital has positions in TEF.

This article first appeared on MarketWatch.

Related Articles

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Bargain Hunting in Spain

The first time I set foot on Spanish soil was the spring of 2000, and what a fantastic time it was to visit.  The dollar was near its all-time high versus the Euro, and an American could live like a king on a pauper’s budget.

My, how times have changed.  I most recently visited Spain in the summer of 2009, and a cup of my beloved café con leche in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor had more than doubled in price when translated into dollars.

Of course, I gladly paid it.  Even at an inflated price, there are few pleasures in life like enjoying a hot café con leche in a Madrid café.

Two years and a sovereign debt crisis later, prices in Madrid’s cafes are a little more reasonable.  But prices in Madrid’s stock market are downright extraordinary.

Consider the broad Ibex 35 Index, which tracks Spain’s blue chip companies.  At time of writing, it trades below the crisis levels of 2008; in fact, the index now sits at levels last seen in 2003.

The index sells for just 9.8 times earnings and yields and eye-popping 8.3 percent in dividends.  Remarkably, this is even cheaper than Greece—despite the now almost certain ejection of Greece from the Eurozone and the havoc that that will wreak.

Value investors have a nasty habit of jumping into investments too early, and I am certainly no exception.  I turned bullish on Spain in the first quarter, buying shares of the iShares MSCI Spain ETF (NYSE: $EWP) in my Tactical ETF Model—and taking substantial losses for it in the months that followed.

Value investors also tend to concentrate too heavily on the fundamentals and valuation of a company while ignoring the larger macro picture.  More often than not, macro concerns prove to be noise.  But during times of extreme stress, they have a way of overpowering company fundamentals.  For example, Spanish telecom giant Telefonica’s (NYSE: $TEF) decision to reduce its 2012 dividend had more to do with conserving capital in a tight credit market than it did the company’s financial health.

Still, today most investors would appear to making the opposite mistake: focusing entirely on macro concerns while completely ignoring the incredible value in front of them.

I’ve recommended Telefonica in recent articles, and I’ll spare readers a lengthy rehash of my reasoning.   I’ll reduce it to five  words: big dividend, emerging market exposure.

The same reasoning applies to banking giant Banco Santander (NYSE:$STD), the largest bank in the Eurozone by market cap.   Santander gets roughly half its profits from the emerging markets of Latin America and another quarter split between the United States and United Kingdom.  Only 13 percent comes from the bank’s home market of Spain.

Santander trades for just 60 percent of book value and its dividend is over 13 percent at current prices.  Could that dividend come under pressure in another wave of capital market volatility?  Of course.  But at current prices, it is worth the risk.

Moving on, investors should consider electric utility Iberdrola SA (Pink:$IBDRY).  Like the other Spanish stocks mentioned, Iberdrola gets only about half of its revenues from Spain.  Roughly a quarter comes from Latin America, and the remainder comes from the United States, United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe.  For a globally-diversified utility, Iberdrola is a steal.  It trades for just 0.62 times book value and 0.64 times sales and yields  6.0 percent.

Disclosures: EWP and TEF are holdings of the Sizemore Capital Tactical ETF Portfolio and Sizemore Investment Letter Portfolio.    

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

An Anniversary We’d Prefer to Forget

Men are not always the best about remembering anniversaries, but there are a few that we would all like to forget.  This past Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the infamous “Flash Crash” of May 6, 2010 that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average swing by 600 points in 20 minutes.

What is perhaps most remarkable about that incident is that there was never a proper explanation for what happened.  High-velocity “algorithmic” trading is generally credited as the culprit, but what exactly happened?  And what is to prevent it from happening again?  To these questions we have no answers.

The real legacy of the Flash Crash is not the portfolio losses suffered by some investors; in fact, unless you happened to have open stop loss orders that got executed, chances are good that the entire event came and went before you had time to act.

No, the real damage was to Wall Street itself, or rather its reputation.  The Flash Crash made investors cynical, making them feel the market was a casino game rigged against them.   Perhaps never again would they believe that the stock exchanges were what they claim to be: a place for holders of capital to allocate it to businesses deemed worthy of investment.

In truth, the market is a rigged game, and it always has been.  Perhaps we need a good Flash Crash every few years to remind us of that.  But rigged game or not, investors able to keep a level head can still use the market for its ostensible purpose of allocating long-term capital.  Market turbulence is something that can be embraced rather than shunned. 

John Templeton

The late Sir John Templeton had a great strategy for managing volatility and taking his emotions out of the equation.  He would make a list of stocks that he would love to own if only they sold for a substantially cheaper price.  He would then place limit orders to buy them at those prices.  If a wave of panic swept the market, Sir John would not be paralyzed by indecision because the decision had already been made for him.

An investor with a plan like this in place on May 6, 2010 could have made a fortune in a matter of minutes.

A similar strategy that had the added benefit of earning you a little extra income is selling deep out-of-the-money puts on stocks you’d like to own at the right price.  Under normal conditions, your puts will expire worthless and you pocket the premium.  But if prices experience a short-term dip, your options might get exercised, meaning that you would have to buy the shares in question.  Of course, that’s the whole idea.  You’d be buying shares of a company you always wanted to own at a price you weren’t expecting to get.

These strategies work fine for buying on the cheap, but what about investors that use stop loss orders for risk management purposes?  I will address that, but first I want to ask a question: would you knowingly play a game of poker if you knew the other players could see your cards?

You most assuredly would not.  But when you place stop loss orders, you have effectively done exactly that.  Don’t be surprised when the stock price dips just low enough to hit your stop before rallying higher.

I’m not suggesting that investors eschew stop losses; good risk management is essential to prevent small losses from becoming catastrophic ones.  But I am suggesting that you play it close to the vest.  Have your stop losses tracked in an Excel spreadsheet, a website not affiliated with your broker, or even a Post-It note.

And finally, while automatic techniques like these are valuable tools, they will never fully replace good old fashioned intestinal fortitude.  An oft-quoted line from Warren Buffett is to “be greedy when others are fearful.”

Today, investors are fearful about Europe, which has me feeling more than a little greedy.  I’ve recommended Spanish telecom giant Telefonica (NYSE:$TEF) in these pages before (see “Investing Lessons from Peru”), and I would like to reiterate that recommendation again today.

Telefonica is one of the finest, most globally-diversified telecom firms in operation today, and long after the current crisis has passed it will be routing telephone calls and paying its investors a fat dividend.  Use any turbulence in the months ahead as an opportunity to accumulate more shares.

Disclosure: Telefonica is held by Sizemore Capital clients and is a holding of the Sizemore Investment Letter Portfolio.

Related Articles

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }